Clea van der Grijn


Installation at The Dock

Clea van der grijn

Momentous is a thought provoking project exploring love and , loss of a child and what is to witness , and be part of the resulting grief.

The installation is in three components . Two commanding life-size photographs ( of mantelpieces) reveal a lifetime collection of family moments through snapshots, notes and artefacts. A photograph , of a still , resting body . It is fragile, and disarming. A collection of video stills freeze frame the private, domestic moments of a family during this grief. All elements are brimming full of life but are fleeting by implication

The images invite the viewer witness a mother s loss of a child. To then witness the power that turns the smallest moments into (as in the title of the project) momentous occasions. The extraordinary and ordinary events that can command the lives of those as they grief
The two substantial mantelpieces are separated from their domestic interior , cluttered with snapshots and moments that quickly stitch the life of the family together . These are images of Friends, smiles, celebrations and artefacts that appear to span several decades . These two images reveal a tapestry of a personal memory of a family and both contain moments from that life that is no longer

The image of the resting body is quite disarming as it takes a while for it come into focus..The viewer is driven to reconsider the elements in this image and consequently adjacent images . The video stills emphasis the artists interest in the everyday and normality that surrounds mechanics of grief. We are asked to consider how these ordinary moments can be extraordinary

The stills are from a video piece which is not part of the show. The stills again take a while to reveal themselves, they are lifted from the passing days of loss. They are very calm and peaceful and could be from any time, A family gathering ,a Sunday or just when someone had a camera. These gatherings we see are very particular and are the threads that draws together the grief and loss within a home.

There is no problem figuring out what this show is about . The content is there and it is definitely a hard project to realise . This is not without range of responsibilities . It is the background to the images that it is useful to consider. The artist often has a bag of tricks to draw us in and keep us occupied , the skill this time has been to leave behind painting (the artist’s preferred medium) and work in a way that does not privilege this artistry. This project has taken place in the upheaval of losing life , in a home ,within a family . The broker ing of trusts and permissions has clearly informed the criteria with which to make the work. To then establish a distance and allow the work to reveal itself is the task at hand. There is no one position from which to view the work , the viewer is left to piece the thing together. Above all the project shows the power and dignity in the experiences of loss.

The rewards have been that this is a deeply personal study of a mother’s loss and the journey she and her family take in encountering this loss . It is a proud and aesthetically responsible show. The project consciously acknowledges the role of others in its production and of course in its content.

Clea Van der grijn is no stranger to projects that deal with the very raw and personal side of life. This project is a logical progression of the content of previous work. The choice of medium has allowed the work to engage / confront both the artist and the audience. The artistry and aesthetic of the work are driven by the content and it’s the content that is so important here . The result of making new choices is that there is no distracting footprint of the artist, which then allows the content command the space. The success of this show is its consideration this key issue. Calm and carefully distanced observations are being made and represented from amidst these moments of loss. It is these considerations and resulting decisions that make this all the more personal and moving.

Maurice O’Connell is a Cultural Activist based in the UK, Lecturer at University College Falmouth and Principal guide for the Novocastrian Philosophers’ Club


Clea van der Grijn
Date: 04/07/2008
"Tackling the taboo subject of death with clarity and precision"

CLEA VAN DER GRIJN'S Moment(ous) , currently showing at the Cross Gallery, originated at The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon earlier this year. It marks something of a departure for van der Grijn, who has previously been best known for her textural paintings, pieces that have clearly emerged from a sustained physical engagement with materials.

Often they've been virtually abstract, though her show prior to this one featured a passionate sequence of figurative works based on the image of the Madonna, something directly inspired by her experience of living in a Co Roscommon building that had been home to a religious order.
By contrast with the practice of building up an image through the application and scraping back of paint, Moment is pretty much hands-off in terms of process, though it is fraught, engaged and difficult in terms of its subject matter.

It tackles what is still virtually a taboo subject: death and what a death in the family means to those still living. It does so intimately, from within the immediate context of the family, but also obliquely, in the form of an ingeniously indirect but telling portrait. The portrait is that of a mother who has lost a son. In the Cross Gallery we see an image of his hands lying across his torso.

Everything that makes up the exhibition is photographic in form, including a series of frames captured from a video documentation made by van der Grijn. We see glimpses of the rituals of mourning and domesticity in a family setting. A table set for a meal. A jar of ashes stands on a wooden cupboard. Our seeing these things is both intrusive and, because the details are so partial and fragmented, remote, distanced. Given the nature of the source in video imagery, it is hardly surprising that the individual frames we see have a fleeting, casual quality.

Clarity and precision come to the fore in the main element of the show, though. Intriguingly, here van der Grijn stepped back even further, so to speak, from her usual physical involvement with her work. She enlisted the photographer Stuart Smyth to make two large-format studies of mantelpieces.

In the form of life-sized prints, these stunningly detailed images are virtual portraits of the mother who has lost a son. It has long been recognised that mantelpieces are unusually informative domestic sites. BBC2 television once commissioned a series of short films that featured individuals talking about their lives through the medium of what they had on their mantelpieces.
Van der Grijn notes that what we see in the images is what was there.

This is worth pointing out because the marble mantelpieces and mirrors are heavily laden with memorabilia of various kinds: family photographs, postcards, drawings, books, pictures, objects and ornaments.

They do tell a story, one it is up to us to piece together for ourselves. They also recall the tradition of precision in Dutch painting of the classical age. In their stillness and immense detail, they also stand in marked contrast to the blurred, half-seen nature of the scenes captured from video. Perhaps van der Grijn has in mind here a comparison between life and death.

The liveliness of the video suggests something like helplessness. Time rushes past, the comfort of ritual cannot undo what has happened, cannot return what is lost. All we have, it implies, is the fleeting moment. The vanitas still life, precisely observed, symbolised transience, and the mantelpieces comes across as being something like that.

With their careful inventories of objects, they suggest a stocktaking, a desire to pin down and itemise. But in fixing, quantifying, defining, we somehow miss out on the nature of being alive, which is what gives it all meaning. Moment is a thoughtful and troubling exhibition, and one is left with the feeling that van der Grijn may further explore its t